Category Archives: Toastmasters

Reaching Peak Performance for Knowledge Workers

A presentation about attention- and time-management for “knowledge workers”: people who solve problems and approach problems creatively, and who deal primarily in knowledge (mental labor) rather than physical (manual) labor.

Prepared and presented by Richard Thripp of Toastmasters of Port Orange, FL on 2015-05-20, in fulfillment of Competent Communication Project #6: “Vocal Variety” in the Toastmasters curriculum.

Download the PDF of this presentation here (1.1 MB).

Keywords: attention, knowledge workers, peak performance, personal development, self-discipline, time management

Covey’s “Quadrant II” tasks and why you should know about them

The following speech, titled “Quadrant II Tasks,” was prepared and presented by Richard Thripp of Toastmasters of Port Orange, FL on 2015-04-15, in fulfillment of Competent Communication Project #4: “How to Say It” in the Toastmasters curriculum.

After hearing my speech, the audience will be educated on “Quadrant II” tasks as presented by Stephen R. Covey in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and the audience will be encouraged to prioritize Quadrant II tasks in their daily lives.

Covey's Quadrants
Image source: SidSavara.com

  • Quadrant 2 tasks are important but not urgent.
  • More examples of Quadrant 2 tasks:
    • An ambitious exercise regimen
    • Quality time with your spouse and family
    • A side business you hope to eventually replace your day job with
    • Pursuing higher education or educational enrichment
    • Eating healthful meals; taking care of your teeth
    • Learning another language
    • Writing an enthralling book
    • Producing glamorous works of art
    • Developing your speaking skills
    • Toastmasters attendance and involvement; completing your CC and CL manuals
  • Quadrant 2 tasks are the “big picture.” They are vital to your long-term goals, dreams, and effectiveness in general. However, they can get swept under the rug because of the other 3 quadrants:
  • Quadrant 1 tasks are important and urgent. These tasks usually have deadlines, and not completing them on-time has negative consequences. For example, filing your taxes.
  • Quadrant 3 tasks are urgent but not important. If you are like me, your coworkers, friends, and family are likely to pile up quadrant 3 tasks on you, such as requests for technical help, proof-reading, or shopping advice. Ironically, a lot of these problems go away if you ignore them. A ringing phone is a prime example of an urgent but often unimportant stimulus.
  • Quadrant 4 tasks are not important and not urgent. Effective people minimize these tasks. Reading junk or chain email, using Facebook, watching TV or YouTube, reading blogs or the news, and text messaging might be in quadrant 4 for you.
  • Quadrant 2 tasks are most important to the effective and self-actualized person.
  • Quadrant 1 tasks are necessary and should be dealt with as needed.
  • Quadrants 3 and 4 should be ignored to the largest extent possible.
  • You can be very efficient focusing on quadrants 1 and 3, but be ineffective. Efficiency and effectiveness are two distinct concepts. Think about what will matter in a year or 5 years.
  • Caution must be used when applying these principles to interpersonal relationships. As Covey says, with people, “slow is fast and fast is slow,” meaning that trying to be efficient simply does not work. But these relationships may belong in Quadrant 2 and may be worth the time.
  • Quadrant 4 activities can be restive and relaxing in moderation. However, try watching documentaries, reading nonfiction books, and listening to audio books rather than the radio.
  • People who refuse to use social networks and refuse to give out their phone number or email might not just be aloof. They may be taking preventative measures to allow themselves to focus on ambitious Quadrant 2 tasks without distractions.
  • “Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.” – Stephen Covey; a good example of Covey’s Quadrants. He said Quadrant 2 is most important.
  • “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” – President Dwight Eisenhower. Sometimes called Eisenhower’s Decision Matrix.
  • WHAT does your Quadrant 2 look like? How much time do you spend in Quadrant 2? How can you improve that?
  • Is your Quadrant 2 being neglected and ignored? Do not feel bad—you are not alone. Start saying “no” to Quadrant 3 and 4 tasks, and work on a Quadrant 2 task first thing each morning.

Download the PDF of the Quadrant II Tasks speech here (420 KB).

Richard Thripp’s 5th speech titled “Why Toastmasters?” has been posted on Thripp.org.

Responsible Credit Card Usage

The following speech was prepared and presented by Richard Thripp of Toastmasters of Port Orange, FL on 2015-01-14, in fulfillment of Competent Communication Project #3: “Get to the Point” in the Toastmasters curriculum.

Initially, I prepared the following essay, which was subsequently adapted into index cue cards that I used to deliver the speech.

After hearing my speech, the audience will be able to articulate three benefits of credit cards and contrast these benefits with drawbacks that can result from poor spending habits, a lack of self-discipline, or other factors.

Good evening fellow Toastmasters and guests,

Regarding self-discipline and credit cards, a common response is to advocate using cash or debit cards to limit our spending. Psychologists tell us we are likely to spend less if we have to fork over cold, hard cash rather than swiping a piece of plastic. However, credit cards offer a great number of advantages. Many credit cards now charge no annual fee and offer at least 1% in cash rewards on all purchases. Customers paying with credit cards have the recourse of pursuing a partial or complete chargeback against the merchant if receiving bad service, which is an avenue not available to users of cash and some debit cards. If the statement balance is fully paid within 21 days after the monthly statement closes, credit cards offer an interest-free loan with no risk, besides risk associated with a lack of self-discipline. If we pay them on time, credit cards help us build a good credit history. If we utilize less than about 30% of our credit lines, they are also likely to improve our credit scores, which can result in lower interest rates and more generous credit lines, not just with credit cards, but also mortgages and auto loans.

Despite these benefits, credit cards are not for everyone. Considering the average annual interest rate on a credit card is about 15%, deferring a balance of $5000 for one month will cost you about $63, completely wiping out the 1% in cashback rewards you may have earned. Further, missed payments can result in the penalty interest rate taking effect, typically 30%, as well as a late payment fee of about $37. Given these dire penalties, credit cards should be used by choice rather than out of necessity, and a wise consumer should always have enough money saved to cover all their credit card purchases.

Rather than condemning credit cards, we should recognize that for some people, they are effective, beneficial, and can actually help us build wealth. The credit card industry has a term for consumers who always pay their balance in full: “deadbeats.” This is because they earn far less money off these consumers than consumers who succumb to making the minimum payment while being subjected to high, compounding interest rates. The credit card business is so lucrative that credit card issuers offer large incentives to new account holders, often in the neighborhood of $500, as well as promotional 0% interest rates from 6 months to as long as 24 months, designed to get you in the habit of not paying the balance in full each month. Being a deadbeat means you can take advantage of these financial incentives while never giving them the satisfaction of profiting through interest and late fees.

The savvy, deadbeat credit card user is likely fiscally responsible in most areas of life, and has developed prudent habits that make him or her far less susceptible to the pitfalls of credit cards. When evaluating whether you are cut out to be a deadbeat, I suggest taking the approach of a financial actuary—rather than relying on emotions and self-image, compile statistics on how much money you have lost to high interest rates, late fees, cash advances, and other financial mechanisms over the past year. If this amount is any more than a few dollars, I suggest you avoid credit cards like the plague.

INDEX CARDS (used for actual speech):

INTRO:
Regarding self-discipline and credit cards, a common response is to advocate using cash or debit cards to limit our spending. Psychologists tell us we are likely to spend less if we have to fork over cold, hard cash than swiping a piece of plastic. Since credit cards are not for everyone, this may be an appropriate response in many cases.

POINT 1: Credit cards not for everyone
• High interest and late fees
• Avg. 15% APR = $63 interest on $5000 balance in one month!
• Penalty 29.99% APR + $37 fee
• Minimum payment = trap
• 0.00% APR lures you in [transition]

POINT 2: Benefits of credit cards
• Interest-free loan (if paid in full)
• Sign-up bonuses and rewards, I made $5000 in 2 years, nontaxable income
• Builds credit history/score, tracking
• Chargebacks (more leverage than cash)
• “Deadbeat” users don’t pay interest/fees

POINT 3: Builds credit history
• Over time improves credit score
• DON’T MISS PAYMENTS
• Keep below 30% utilization
• Multiple CCs = less effect to avg. acct. age when new CC is opened
• High credit score = very valuable in life

CONCLUSION:
While credit cards can be a trap for many people, they can allow you to make thousands of dollars in bonuses and rewards while building your credit. Lenders and scoring models look favorably at a long history of on-time payments, which will benefit you when seeking a mortgage, auto, or personal loan, or even when renting an apartment or car. Thus, using credit cards responsibly can pay large dividends.

How to Avoid Losing Computer Data

The following speech was prepared and presented by Richard Thripp of Toastmasters of Port Orange, FL on 2014-10-08, in fulfillment of Competent Communication Project #2: “Organizing Your Speech” in the Toastmasters curriculum.

A presentation of ideas regarding avoiding losing typed work on webpages, backing up computer data, and the format and compression of data.

Good evening fellow Toastmasters and guests,

Tonight I would like to talk about some basic concepts regarding computer usage and steps you can take to avoid losing data.

Have you ever filled out a form on a website only to have everything you typed vanish due to accidentally pressing the back button or some other glitch? This can be avoided by careful consideration and planning. If you are typing a long report, get into the habit of typing it in another program such as Notepad or Microsoft Word and saving the file regularly using the Ctrl + S keyboard shortcut. Then, when you have finished typing, you can copy and paste the results into the website, with the Word file serving as a backup. For users of the Mozilla Firefox web browser, there is also a free extension called Lazarus Form Recovery that saves all text you type in the browser, so you can retrieve it after a browser or operating system crash, server timeout, or other problem.

Backing up your computer files by making duplicate copies of them on other devices is critical, not only due to the risk of hard drive failure, but also viruses, software problems, and user error. For a backup to be effective, it must be updated regularly and stored on a different device—for example, it must not be stored on the same hard drive or a partition of the same hard drive. When updating your backup, care must be taken to ensure you are not deleting or overwriting previous versions of files that you might want to recover later. One piece of software I use to back up my files is called SyncBackFree, which allows you to configure options regarding the types of files to be backed up, and also to synchronize files based on variables such as file size and the “last modified” timestamp. Synchronization is also available, and is useful if you are actively making changes to the files on two devices, such as your home PC and a USB flash drive. For simplicity’s sake, I do not use synchronization, but rather edit most of my documents and school files directly from my flash drive even while at home, and thus use the software to perform a backup from my flash drive to my internal hard drive or other device at all times, which means my flash drive is treated as the authoritative or master copy. When using powerful software such as SyncBackFree, you should be careful to understand the interface and review the files that are going to be changed before proceeding with the backup, since it is possible to make a mistake and end up overwriting the data you intend to preserve.

In principle, you should also always have at least one copy of the files you intend to preserve NOT connected to your computer, in case a bug, virus, power surge, or curious toddler manages to delete both copies of the files. Thus, it may be necessary to have three copies of important files, with no more than two connected to your computer at any one time. I would also recommend looking into online backup, as it is increasingly becoming an effective option, especially for people who merely backing up documents and spreadsheets, rather than many gigabytes of photos and videos.

The final concept I will discuss is data formatting and compression. While you may think these are only of interest to computer science students, in fact they are quite important to the literate computer user. Consider that you are preparing a poster for work that you would like to both display in print, and distribute by email. A common mistake is emailing the same file you intend to print—this wastes many megabytes of space in each recipient’s email inbox. In fact, you should create a separate file to send via email, which can simply be the original file resampled to a lower resolution and saved with more compression.

Over-compression is also a common mistake. One example of this is misuse of the resolution and quality settings on your digital camera. As a new digital photographer in 2004, for several months I made the mistake of choosing the one megapixel resolution setting instead of two megapixels on my camera. My logic at the time was that the photos look the same anyway in slideshows on my monitor, and that I had only a small memory card and small hard drive in my computer. I regret this decision whenever I look at these photos, and wish I would have used the highest resolution setting on my camera and bought a larger memory card and hard drive earlier. Additionally, monitor resolutions have increased since 2004, so one megapixel photos do not even take up my whole screen now. When working with data, this is a very important principle to keep in mind—you can always remove data later, but you can never restore data that has been destroyed or was never recorded in the first place. Thus, it is wise to avoid making irreversible changes to any original file. Thanks to the abstraction that is the digital world, we are fortunate to be able to make perfect copies of digital files and perform our experiments safely.

Establishing Positive Self-Talk

Some ideas I wrote today for the 2014-08-06 meeting of the Toastmasters club of Port Orange, FL tonight:

Establishing Positive Self-Talk

Self-talk is the ongoing stream of private thoughts that run through your mind. The self-talk of many people focuses on anxieties, imperfections, shortcomings, and “what if” questions. However, just because pessimistic self-talk is common does not mean it is healthy or beneficial. If we make an effort to change our self-talk to be more positive, optimistic, forgiving, and encouraging, we will have more success and happiness in life.

Here are three examples of negative self-talk and positive replacements:
• “I’ve never done it before.” – “It’s an opportunity to learn something new.”
• “It’s too complicated.” – “I’ll tackle it from a different angle
or “I’ll chip away at it over time.”
• “I could never be as good as so-and-so.” – “So-and-so inspires and motivates me.”

One way to improve your self-talk is to make a conscious effort to replace negative thinking with positive thinking. Don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect. Celebrate your hard work rather than dwelling on times when you were lazy or needed rest. Think more about your accomplishments and less about your mistakes.

We tend to be hold ourselves to a higher, harsher standard than acquaintances and even close friends and family. However, doing so is often counterproductive because it prevents us from taking risks and causes us to sell ourselves short. Instead, try being as uplifting and supportive to yourself as you are to your best friend.

[ Quotes copied or adapted from a Mayo Clinic article ]